Remarks at a Luncheon
Hosted by Artists and Cultural Leaders in
Henry VIII said to each of his six wives, I won't keep you long. [Laughter] But
thank you, Vladimir Vasilievich. It's with some
humility that I come here today. You here -- writers, artists, dramatists,
musicians of this vast country -- are heirs to the seminal figures in many of
the arts as they have developed in the 20th century,
been very impressed with what I've heard just now. For my contribution to this
dialog I thought I would deal here briefly with the question whose answer might
open up some new insights for all of us. You see, I've been told that many of
you were puzzled that a former actor could become the leader of a great nation,
In the movie business, actors often get what we call typecast; that is, the studios come to think of you as playing certain kinds of roles, so those are the kinds of roles they give you. And no matter how hard you try, you just can't get them to think of you in any other way. Well, politics is a little like that, too. So, I've had a lot of time and reason to think about my role not just as a citizen turned politician but as an actor turned politician.
In looking back, I believe that acting did help prepare me for the work I do now. There are two things, two indispensable lessons, that I've taken from my craft into public life. And I hope you won't think it excessively opportune if I use the words of a Soviet filmmaker to explain one of them. He was, after all, one of the world's greatest filmmakers, and so, like so many of your artists, indeed, like so many of you, belongs in a broader sense to all of humanity.
It was during the production of ``Ivan the Terrible'' when Eisenstein noted that in making a film, or in thinking through any detail of it -- which to my mind would include the acting of a part -- in his words, ``The most important thing is to have the vision. The next is to grasp and hold it. You must see and feel what you are thinking. You must see and grasp it. You must hold and fix it in your memory and senses. And you must do it at once.'' To grasp and hold a vision, to fix it in your senses -- that is the very essence, I believe, of successful leadership not only on the movie set, where I learned about it, but everywhere. And by the way, in my many dealings with him since he became General Secretary, I've found that Mr. Gorbachev has the ability to grasp and hold a vision, and I respect him for that.
The second lesson I carried from acting into public life was more subtle. And let me again refer to a Soviet artist, a poet -- again, one of the world's greatest. At the beginning of ``Requiem,'' Anna Akhmatova writes of standing in a line outside a prison when someone in the crowd recognizes her as a well-known poet. She continues, ``Then a woman standing behind me, whose lips were blue with cold and who, naturally enough, had never even heard of my name, emerged from that state of torpor common to us all and, putting her lips close to my ear -- there everyone spoke in whispers -- asked me, `And could you describe this?' And I answered her, `I can.' Then something vaguely like a smile flashed across what once had been her face.''
That exchange -- ``Can you describe this?'' ``I can'' -- is at the heart of acting as it is of poetry and of so many of the arts. You get inside a character, a place, and a moment. You come to know the character in that instant not as an abstraction, one of the people, one of the masses, but as a particular person -- yearning, hoping, fearing, loving -- a face, even what had once been a face, apart from all others; and you convey that knowledge. You describe it, you describe the face. Pretty soon, at least for me, it becomes harder and harder to force any member of humanity into a straitjacket, into some rigid form in which you all expect to fit. In acting, even as you develop an appreciation for what we call the dramatic, you become in a more intimate way less taken with superficial pomp and circumstance, more attentive to the core of the soul -- that part of each of us that God holds in the hollow of his hand and into which he breathes the breath of life. And you come to appreciate what another of your poets, Nikolai Gumilev, meant when he wrote that ``The eternal entrance to God's paradise is not closed with seven diamond seals. It is a doorway in a wall abandoned long ago -- stones, moss, and nothing more.''
As I see it, political leadership in a democracy requires seeing past the abstractions and embracing the vast diversity of humanity and doing it with humility, listening as best you can not just to those with high positions but to the cacophonous voices of ordinary people and trusting those millions of people, keeping out of their way, not trying to act the all-wise and all-powerful, not letting government act that way. And the word we have for this is freedom.
the last few years, freedom for the arts has been expanded in the
William Faulkner said of poets -- although he could have been speaking of any of the arts -- it is the poet's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of our past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man. It can be one of the props, the pillars, to help him endure and prevail. Thank you for having me here today and for sharing your thoughts with me, and God bless you all.
Note: The President
spoke at in the dining room at the A. Fadeyev
Central House of Men of Letters. He was introduced by Vladimir Vasilievich Karpov, first
secretary of the board of the Soviet Writers'